Last Man Standing, by Jerry Lee Lewis (Artist First)
After bouncing around a handful of labels, and having its release date
postponed repeatedly, the latest Lewis comeback effort finally appears.
(Remember when the movie bio was supposed to resurrect the Killer’s career? Unfortunately, Dennis Quaid took all the sting out of the project by playing the most dangerous man in the history of rock as a rube and a yokel.) Like that movie, this album should have been doomed from the start, with its everybody-but-Bono parade of duet partners, most of whom had more to gain than Lewis by appearing on the CD. Fortunately, the whole thing is mostly redeemed by the fact that for once you can actually hear Lewis’ piano playing on one of his records. Believe me, he can still play. Always anunder-rated if careless singer, Lewis can also still hit the notes when he wants to. And it sounds like he wanted to here. What John Halverson brilliantly called "Jerry Lee’s basic no-goodness" has always been a big part of the attraction, and the Ferriday Fireball, even at 70-whatever, still knows how to embarrass himself with the best of them: singing "Old Glory" with Toby Keith may be the nadir of a career full of rock bottoms. But if he didn’t make you cringe one minute and sit up straight the next, he wouldn’t be the Killer, would he?
Antony and the Johnsons, by Antony and the Johnsons (Secretly Canadian)
The debut CD by one of the great new voices in American pop, featuring the anthemic "River of Sorrow" and other classics. Like most people who hadn’t been in the loop, I discovered Antony through his amazing performance of "If It Be Your Will," in the film "Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man."
I am a Bird Now, by Antony and the Johnsons (Secretly Canadian)
Never have guest vocals been more unnecessary than the drop-ins by Rufus Wainwright, Boy George, and Lou Reed on this band’s second CD. Not that the contributions aren’t good, but you’d rather hear Antony sing any of these songs by himself, if you’re familiar with his voice at all. Compare the duet with Boy George on "You Are My Sister" with Antony and his band’s brilliant unaided performance on Letterman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_R3CYVLcYZw
And while you’re tubing, dig Antony’s cameo in the French film, Wilde Side, singing "I’m In Love With A Dead Boy".
Black Dialogue, by The Perceptionists (Definitive Jux)
The CD that contains my favorite antiwar song since the invasion of Iraq, "Memorial Day," with its grunt point-of-view refrain: "Where are the weapons of mass destruction? We been lookin’ for months and we ain’t found nothing. Please Mr. President, tell us something!"
Marsalis Plays Monk (Standard Time, Vol. 4), by Wynton Marsalis (Sony)
When I visited with Marsalis, backstage at Rockefeller’s in Houston, in the 80s, I asked him to play something by Monk, expecting to get "Blue Monk" or "Straight No Chaser" or at best "Well, You Needn’t" for my troubles. He played "Raise Four" — raising my eyebrows and sending me scrambling back to the LP collection to see what other Monk tunes (such as the seldom-played "Work," for example) I’d been overlooking. At a time when nothing could seem more uncool than listening to Marsalis, whose fall (into the depths of the Establishment) from the heights of jazz fashion has been stupefying, try his Monk tribute CD. Well worth the trouble, though I don’t see why Wynton’s fine versions of "Think Of One" and "Crepescule with Nellie" couldn’t have been included in the set.
DAVID VEST can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.